Today, I am thinking of my grandmother. I kissed my son on the forehead and headed to the polls. I told him that I was excited to vote for a woman less than a hundred years after women got the right to vote and that I was taking my grandmother, Dorothy Fallon, with me in my heart. I actually am not sure if she would have voted for Hillary, I don’t know anything about my grandmother’s politics but here’s what I do know about her and why I am thinking of her today.
My grandmother was one of two girls. She was born in 1915. After high school, she wanted to continue her education, move out and have a career. She was ahead of her time. She found a way to do it – single girls were not supposed to move out in 1933. She went to the Peter Bent Brigham nursing school in Boston because they had boarding available for women. But life happened, she met a handsome young man, got swept off her feet and when she landed she was married and then she quickly had a baby, my Dad, and re-started her life as a wife and a mother. She never finished school. What she didn’t know about the handsome young man she married was that he did not share the “liberal” ideals she had to be a career woman. She was a wife and a mother and that would need to be enough. I don’t think it ever was. I think he loved her, or maybe the idea of her, she was tall and beautiful and strong and he wanted her to be all of those things just not independent of him.
This is a memoir, from the memory of a once small girl who idolized her beautiful grandmother, and here’s what I remember.
She was always dressed impeccably, she never had a hair out of place. Her house was always spotless. She smelled delicious. And, she had a plastic cover on the new divan (couch) in the living room to keep it clean. In other words, she put on a really good show.
And, she was always making beautiful things. She was a talented seamstress and she made costumes for a local skating club for years. She would always make an extra for me. I have no idea if they paid her or if she did it because it gave her an outlet for her energy and creativity. One time she wanted to earn her own money, I have no idea for what, I just know the story. She convinced my grandfather that she could rent “her side of the driveway” since they only had one car and the other side was free all day and night. He agreed, likely in a moment of weakness, she must have known just when to ask him. She got it ready, she found a renter and I can imagine that she was very pleased with herself. One day it snowed, my grandfather got up early to shovel the driveway and then came in for breakfast. As he sat down and opened the paper he announced, “You better get out there and shovel your side of the driveway before your renter gets here.” Hmmm. I’ll bet she made his breakfast is all I can think when I remember this story.
I loved so much about her. She was who she was. She was an athlete, a golfer. She had an edge. And a wicked sense of humor. She smoked cigarettes like Frances Farmer. (that part I could probably stop emulating)
Later in her life she took painting classes and discovered that she was quite talented. When I look at the fish painting she made for me that still hangs in my living room I can remember her telling me all about how she made it and the class, her eyes twinkling with pride as she recounted a compliment from the painting instructor.
One day I was at her house, visiting from college, eating dinner. My Dad called. He was calling to tell his Mom that he had gotten a promotion. I remember thinking, that’s awesome that my Dad still calls his Mom to share his good news. She offered the phone to me and I chatted with my father for a few minutes and then said, “I love you Dad” and hung up. She looked at me and said, “Do you always say that to him?” “Say what Grandma?” “Do you always tell him, that, you… love him?” “Yes, Grandma, every time I talk to him I tell him that.”
“I don’t think I have ever said that to him in my life,” she said.
I didn’t really understand that, I could see that she loved him and was proud of him. And, I am sure he could feel it. My Dad has never missed a moment to tell me that he loves me so he must have felt it felt it from her too – how else would he have learned the power of that.
She called me one day a few weeks later when I was back at college and declared, “I said it! I told your father that I loved him. I just called him up and I said it.” I think she was amazing.
My last memory of my grandmother happened just before she died. I was visiting with her in the hospital. She held my hands and with her very tired eyes and now softened voice she gave me the permission I needed at that moment, to separate from my husband.
When I voted this morning, I had her in my heart. I could smell her perfume and see her perfect hair. She blazed a trail for me with her shovel on her side of the driveway.